Disclaimer: This story contains details of child loss and grief that may be upsetting for some.
“Looking back at the last three years, I often ask the question, ‘How the HECK did I survive?’ I’m sure a lot of people would ask that same question after going through a pandemic and being isolated from their loved ones month after month. But for me… I really wonder how I survived the gut-wrenching heartbreak my family endured since 2019. We went to hell and back ON TOP of a global pandemic. We made our journey basically alone, and the only thing we had to get us through was HOPE and a PURPOSE.
Our journey began in December 2018 when we discovered I was pregnant after a year and a half of trying with our third baby girl. We delivered the news to our older daughters, Ella (6) and Suzi (4) on Christmas morning and we began many months of waiting for our beautiful new baby girl’s arrival. I look back at those months and get angry, almost pity, the woman I was. I was oblivious. So naïve to all that lay ahead for me. I wasn’t a bad person, not self-centered or ungrateful. But I had no idea how GOOD life really was for us and how hard life really COULD be.
Losing Our Baby Girl
July 2, 2019 was the worst day of my life. At 32 weeks pregnant, I found out my sweet baby girl’s heart had stopped beating. After a textbook pregnancy and multiple ultrasounds (one being the week before), we lost our baby girl. I woke up that morning and went about life as usual. Dropping the big sisters off at school, throwing up at least twice from the usual morning all-day sickness, and heading into the office to work with my husband at our family business. But around 9:00, I noticed our little one in my tummy was unusually quiet. I acknowledged it for a fleeting moment but kept moving along. Around 9:45, I paused again and thought how odd it was she wasn’t her normal rambunctious third child self, rolling around and doing karate moves in my belly.
So I nudged her around, got up to move, and got a candy bar and a Mountain Dew to kickstart her into action. I laid down on the couch in my office, where I often snoozed because having two kids and pregnancy is exhausting. Stillness, quiet, nothing. At this point, I started to get worried. I called my husband, who was out at a meeting, and told him I was a little worried and was going to call the doctor. It was probably nothing, but I needed to call. By this time, it was around 11:00. My doctor’s office said they were closing for lunch, but to come in at 1:00 to be put on the monitors. Within 15 minutes, they called back because they wanted me to head to the hospital to get checked immediately.
But it was too late. After begrudgingly going to the hospital because I knew I was overreacting, and even thinking to myself as I rolled into labor and delivery how silly this all was, I laid on a bed in triage, surrounded by moms with heartburn and UTIs, and was told she was gone. Anele Elizabeth Stasiukaitis was no longer with us. I had lost my child. My baby. My daughter. Those moments thereafter are almost too hard to even remember. The visceral cries and sounds that came from my body will haunt my nightmares. I stared at my husband just wanting him to fix it, wanting to wake up from a literal nightmare. All I could say was, ‘NO. NO. NO.’ This couldn’t be happening to me. This doesn’t happen. How does this happen? I just had an ultrasound. She’s perfect. This isn’t real.
But it was. And Anele was gone. She was born into our arms on July 3, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. She was perfect. Long and lanky. Four pounds, four ounces of beautifully created baby girl. I remember the way she smelt. The way her soft, fragile skin felt. Her long piano-worthy fingers. Her perfect little ears. And her little pink nose that held its color until I let her go that night. The first words I said to her were, ‘I am so sorry. I am so so sorry.’ Because I failed her. I failed her as a mother. My job was to give her life and nurture her and protect her and bring her into this world. And I failed.
I try to describe what those first raw moments were like to people who have never experienced such a tragedy. I tell them this…
‘Imagine looking at a glass wall. Tall and big and crisp and clear. On that glass wall, there are images or pictures displayed across it. They are your visions of what your future holds. Visions of what you picture your life looking like. For me, I had visions of three beautiful girls dancing throughout my house. Two big sisters meeting their little sister for the first time in the hospital. Family vacations with a family of 5. My parents holding their 7th granddaughter. My sister snuggling with her niece. And my husband surrounded by 3 beautiful daughters for the rest of his days.
Now imagine someone coming to that beautiful wall with all the visions of your future and walking up to it with a sledgehammer. Picking up that sledgehammer and slamming into your perfect display of your life. All the glass shatters. It is earthshaking. Deafening. Everything you have ever imagined and hoped and dreamed for crashes to the ground. Broken. Shattered. And no matter how hard you try… it will never be able to be pieced back together again. Ever.’
That’s how those moments feel. How do you move on? Where do you begin? How can you even take one step forward when the ground is covered in shards of your broken life? It’s devastating.
But we moved forward. Somehow. The first few months were impossible. It was rare that I made it five minutes without thinking about how much I missed Anele. Every joyous moment was overshadowed by deep anguishing sorrow and longing. There was a gaping hole in our lives and the Amy that once existed, that naïve and ignorant version that existed before, was long gone. I grieved the Amy I once was because I thought I would never be joyful or whole again.
Trying For Another Baby
I knew from the moment Anele was born we would try for another baby. Not to replace her. Ever. Those words bring visceral anger and sadness into a lump in my throat because she will never be replaced. But to bring a baby home to her big sisters. I wanted to show them this was not what being a big sister was supposed to be like. Especially for my little Suz. It was so hard to watch her confusion and sadness and heartbreak because all she wanted was to hold her baby. Being a big sister was not kissing an urn before bedtime each night. It was not explaining to your friends what ashes were. It was not setting butterflies off on her first birthday. I could write for days about how difficult it is to parent through your own heartbreak, but also not being able to fix your children’s heartbreak at the same time.
In February of 2020, 7 months after Anele was born, we conceived again. Talk about a tornado of anxiety and heartbreak and grief and joy and hope and love and fear wrapped up all into one. We were high risk. So I had scan after scan and test after test. We found out early that our little rainbow would be a boy. The first boy in our family. My parents’ eighth grandchild, but the first grandson. He was a godsend and pulled our family out of dark times. But those joyous moments were often overshadowed by the paralyzing fear of losing another.
In March 2020, cue the pandemic. With the uncertainty of COVID and how dangerous it was for pregnant women, I was locked in a proverbial tower with two children, homeschooling and trying to work at the same time. I was alone. Isolated. Scared. My husband and only a select few people who isolated themselves were the only people I had. I was grieving. I was pregnant. I was fearing for the life of my unborn child. I was carrying the weight of homeschooling and parenting two grieving children. Alone. No tribe. No rest. But that wasn’t even the hardest part of our journey.
On August 25, 2020, on my 31st birthday, I went in for an ultrasound with my maternal fetal doctor. That was the second-worst day of my life. My son, our little rainbow, was diagnosed with Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia… a life-threatening birth defect with global survival rates of a very heartbreaking 50%. His defect was ‘mild’ on the CDH spectrum, but still, we knew we would have to fight for his life and were at risk of losing another child. Throw that on the proverbial pile of trauma and you have the perfect storm of the most traumatic years of my life.
Arrival Of Our Rainbow Baby
By the grace of God, our Mac William McLeod Stasiukaitis, was born on October 26, 2020. We fought for his life for 24 days in the NICU at Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, that was thankfully just a few miles down the road. I didn’t hold him until Day 4 of his life. He had major surgery on Day 5, came off the ventilator on Day 7, ate my milk for the first time on Day 8, and came home to his overjoyed big sisters on Day 24.
Mac is a miracle. Nothing short of it. He is a gift I know his big sister Anele sent to us. I know God let her pick which baby she would send to her family. And Anele knew Mac would need a special family. A family as strong as nails that knew they had to be faithful and full of hope to get him through his battles. And she looked at us. Anele looked at me and said, ‘My mama can do this. She will be the perfect mama for Mac and me.’
Finding Purpose In The Pain
I’m sure after reading this, you might be tired from trying to keep up. Now imagine being the woman that went through this. It was exhausting and heart-wrenching and heavy and there were many moments when I didn’t think I could take one more breath because it was all so overwhelmingly painful. But I did. I have taken millions of more breaths, and I have put one foot in front of the other and stood up for 1,098 days after the worst day of my life. I stand in my pain and sorrow and joy and love. Never-ending love for my three babies here with me on Earth and for my angel Anele in Heaven.
I hope you will never have to endure the hardships my family has faced these last three years. I hope you never have to feel so defeated, and your glass wall never shatters. But if you do, you will survive it, many days because you don’t have a choice but to stand up and push forward. But you can survive it if you give your pain a purpose and a meaning.
I don’t like to say, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ A lot of grief and trauma survivors don’t like to hear that. But for me, I know if my daughter died and my son had to spend the first three weeks of his life hooked up to machines, it is my duty as their mother to make it happen for something. To give their lives and their pain meaning. To give their stories purpose. We will bring joy and happiness to the world and make a difference BECAUSE of Anele’s life. Not her death, but her life, will change the world. And if I didn’t push forward and stand up and share her story and persevere through the pain, then we lost her for nothing. I WILL NOT stand for that and I won’t allow her story to fade, but it will be my mission for her life to live on through us.
We decided on Anele’s second birthday that we would honor her life by weaving gratitude into our lives and having all the people who continue to love her do the same. We started the #GratefulForAnele movement. Not only are we grateful for our little girl’s seven months of life and the lasting impact she has made on the world, but we participate in the act of being grateful every day for her. If we didn’t lose her for a reason, we will give her life the purpose of teaching all people that hear her story to be grateful every day for each and every blessing in their lives.
Remember that glass wall? At first, I never thought I could piece it back together. I thought I would never be able to pick up the pieces. My life would always be broken. And it will. But I can piece it back together. The shards are now stained with beautiful colors. Blues for the sorrow. Purple for the longing. Yellow for the joy. Red for love. Pinks for gratefulness. Green for the life and the future ahead of us. We are picking up the pieces one by one and melding them back together. And we are now standing in front of a beautiful stained-glass wall. It is so beautiful and awe-inspiring and gut-wrenchingly perfect in its own way. It will take your breath away. The stained glass’s purpose is to make the world a more beautiful place. Is it perfect? No. Is it broken? Yes. Always. But gosh, by the grace of God, it is a beautiful testimony of hope, strength, gratitude, purpose, and a future. The stained-glass wall reminds the world how beautifully broken life truly is and to be grateful for every single piece of it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amy Stasiukaitis from Charleston, South Carolina. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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